Some of the best boo-hoolarious animated episodes to check out this fall.
Animation and Halloween combine to create some of the best forms of storytelling out there. The Simpsons – among the show’s many accomplishments – have kept viewers laughing and screaming throughout decades of “Treehouse of Horrors” specials. Other shows and films, like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and decades of Scooby-Doo reboots also fill that void.
With that said, they are far from the only good, animated offerings out there for this time of the year. Films and series like Monster House, Coraline, and Over the Garden Wall have sneaked into our lexicon, frightening and delighting newer generations of those looking for nightmares. Even something not specifically about Halloween itself can fit the season and enter one’s October lineup. So, here is a list of nine episodes of television from the past 21 years that are perfect spooky viewing experiences at this point in the year.
Alex Hirsch’s modern gem is full of scream-worthy imagery. With that said, “Summerween” is specifically about a version of Halloween set over the summer because the people of Gravity Falls love Halloween so much they have it twice. Dipper and Mabel plan to go trick or treating, but Dipper wants to ditch her for a party with Wendy. Dipper angers the Summerween Trickster in the process, which forces Dipper to trick-or-treat for 500 pieces of candy before the last jack-o’-melon (using watermelons instead of pumpkins as jack-o’-lanterns) is blown out to appease the Trickster or die.
The episode does have some fantastic Halloweeny pleasures, from Soos obsessing over a decoration skeleton head that tells puns, to Grunkle Stan trying to scare some children. What drives the episode is Dipper trying to grow up too quickly while Mabel wants to enjoy getting candy with Dipper in Twin costumes. That mindset directly causes their suffering when Dipper tells the Trickster that he looks “too old to go trick or treating” and later when Dipper hides their candy from Wendy, accidentally pushing it into a stream.
Anne and the Plantars are stowed away inside during the annual blue moon shut-in to avoid looking at a moon that might turn them into monsters; “no one knows” and “no one wants to find out…ever.” While locked in, Anne, Sprig, and Hop-Pop tell scary stories, tales that have actually happened and are frightening enough to keep them from going outside, per Hop-Pops’ rules.
This one is pure, Halloween fun from start to finish. Literally, as the title sequence is updated with a purple filter, random skeletons and bats, and a spooky update to the theme song. The stories themselves are entertaining as well, including Anne’s tale about peer pressure involving people getting literally sucked into cell phones called “Phone Mo” – “like FOMO but with your phone.” Next comes Hop-Pop’s tale called “Dead End” about the Plantar family patriarch driving a devilish figure, Mr. LittlePot – voiced by George Takei – to reap the souls of different families. Finally, Sprig weaves a narrative entitled “Skin Deep” about meeting a being with skin composed of Dead Frogs. Like much of the series, “The Shut-In” mixes in the series’ twisted visuals with light humor that entertains and spooks. It has moments that may frighten some younger audiences, but nothing in this episode is too intense.
“Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos” illuminates a haunting pattern about the golden retriever. Mr. Peanutbutter is taking Pickles, his new girlfriend, to his 25th annual Halloween party/invasion at BoJack’s house. This features Mr. Peanutbutter surprising BoJack every year with a drunk group of costumed guests. This time, we flashback to three other nights, when Mr. Peanutbutter is going to this party with each of his ex-wives: Katrina (Lake Bell), Jessica Biel (voiced by herself), and, of course, Diane.
Mr. Peanutbutter has always served as the positive mirror to BoJack, but this episode digs deep into his self-perceived toxic qualities. He believes that he is making his “fun” girlfriends dull and lifeless and he struggles to find out why. Namely, why Mr. Peanutbutter has stayed in a circle of never-ending outward joy because of a belief that nothing matters that keeps him failing in his relationships. And this party keeps highlighting this, from leaving Katrina alone all night, to preventing Biel from seeing a mummy (which haunts her for not getting cast in Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy), to not letting Diane go home from the overcrowded party.
Thus, Mr. Peanutbutter keeps dating women in their 20s and they outgrow him. Putting these parties together works perfectly with Mr. Peanutbutter’s recurring struggles. Not to mention the episode couples together issues with the rest of the cast, from BoJack welcoming Todd into his home after learning about his dad’s death to Princess Carolyn always manning door duty. Also, be on the lookout for some quirky year-specific Halloween costumes of different people dancing in the background of scenes.
The phrase “blood bending” is unsettling as spoken. That is part of what makes “The Puppetmaster” so shocking. Katara meets Hama (Tress MacNeille), the last water bender from the Southern Water Tribe hiding amongst firebenders in a mysterious fire nation village. There, people have been going missing during a full moon. Hama reveals to Katara that she has been using her blood bending during every full moon to imprison people in this town as revenge for the war. They fight, with Hama using her blood bending to control Aang and Sokka.
While the episode features standard Avatar jokes from Sokka, most of this episode is darker in tone. It starts with the characters telling ghost stories by the fire and Toph hearing the prisoners screaming under the mountain. The Gaang finds puppets stowed away in Hama’s house looking for clues. The score is heightened by pinpoint music box notes and disarming piano music that fits more with a horror film than an episode of Avatar. Not to mention the imagery of Hama gaining power from a full moon.
Also, the frightening nature comes from a different perspective about the war. Hama believes that blood bending is her salvation, given that her blood blending allowed her to walk out of the fire nation prison with ease. Now, she only uses it to imprison innocent people and tries to force Katara to share her trauma and use it to punish anyone in the fire nation. Avatar rolls through many different versions of the war, from Zuko’s family to Master Jeong Jeong becoming disenfranchised from fire bending. Here, “The Puppetmaster” uses a darker tone and a horror-like story to detail the haunting nature of war, the horrible inventions people create to survive, and the effects they have on later generations.
This episode is centered around Tuca and Bertie visiting their families during Cadaveri or Corpse Week. That alone should be enough to engage with this Halloween-inspired episode. “Corpse Week” excels for many reasons, namely the use of holidays and dark stories to examine familial issues.
This connects include Tuca’s ghost stories about a bird with a human face switching to Tuca ranting about her sister and calling her a demon – right in front of her niece. Later, Bertie notices her parents have changed their Cadaveri cake and learned that her parents never told her about her dad having surgery. Not to mention the episode features the characters going out for “yum or yell,” chanting rituals to appease their dead ancestors, and disturbing, pent-up family drama.
The episode connects with the demons haunting Tuca’s combative sister and Bertie’s emotionally distant parents. This combination – as per usual with Tuca and Bertie – leads to laughs and also phenomenal emotional moments while also connecting to the Halloween spirit.
The Cluster is one of the most horrifying threats in Steven Universe, so giving them a horror-themed episode made too much sense. Connie’s mom, Dr. Priyanka Maheswaran (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn), takes Rose’s sword away as she goes to work the night shift, unaware of Connie’s training. Steven and Connie rush to the hospital to fetch the sword but run into Dr. Maheswaran’s patients – gem mutations seeping into Beach City.
This episode plays out as a monster episode, with Steven and Connie fighting the mutations in a dark, nearly empty hospital (with voice acting veteran Dee Bradley Baker voicing one of the mutants). Also, the episode serves as a somewhat frightening moment for Connie to come clean to her parents about her involvement with the gems. It leads to an emotional moment to close the episode with Dr. Maheswaran telling her daughter that she needs her in her life and for her to be honest.
Courage the Cowardly Dog is a disturbing children’s show. One could throw a dart at any episode title and throw themselves into a nightmare that introduced a generation of kids to genre thrills.
“The Quilt Club” gets the nod here for literally stitching itself into this writer’s mind since his childhood. Muriel tries to impress the conjoined Stitch Sisters (Sesame Street alum Fran Brill) and join their Quilt Club. However, this involves her making increasingly difficult quilts, to the point that she forgets the people around her.
Even for Courage, the episode has a darker atmosphere, with grey clouded skies, dark atmosphere, and growingly distant Muriel. That loneliness serves as a main theme of the episode, as Muriel desperately wants to be included in something separate from her husband, Eustace’s rage. She spends so much time alone with Courage and Eustace it would make sense for her to want companionship, and then would be lured in by the parasitic Stitch Sisters.
This culminates in Muriel becoming fabric and literally getting sewn into the sister’s quilt. Courage reminds Muriel of her family by sewing some of his fur and a quilt of a baby Eustace into the quilt, with her memories flowing back to her and freeing her from the eternal fabric. “The Quilt Club” uses horror to examine isolationism while showing how people always have someone to reach out to while also serving as a dark piece of animation to watch during the fall.
Raven is one of the most mysterious members of the Titans, especially given her closed-off nature. This episode follows Beast Boy and Cyborg accidentally falling into Raven’s mind through a seemingly innocent mirror. Beast Boy wants to apologize for antagonizing Raven a mishap during a mission in which Raven nearly consumes Doctor Light. There, Beast Boy and Cyborg meet different facets of Raven’s emotions and gain an understanding of their teammate.
That description alone should give an idea about how this episode will go. Her mind is a dark, endless space with creepy, red-eyed crows and floating rocks. Each version of Raven is unnerving for how different they are, including a shockingly happy version living in a pink wonderland, a morbidly sad one passing through a confusing maze, and a confident fighter. Raven must control her emotions in real life to keep her power from overtaking her – like when her anger nearly took over against Doctor Light. This all culminates when Ravens’ anger appears in the form of her father, later revealed to be Trigon. Raven feels like she needs to fight her father alone and hone in her anger, but Beast Boy and Cyborg step in anyway and help her unify her emotions.
“Nevermore” gives viewers an early understanding of the closed-off character, Raven. Not to mention it is filled to the brim with fall charms, with Beast Boy saying that Raven’s room looks like Halloween coming early.
SpongeBob Squarepants has tackled Halloween several times but never before has he dealt with the horrors of the night shift. Mr. Krabs forces him and Squidward to work 24 hours all by themselves, much to Squidward’s chagrin. To have some fun, Squidward plays with SpongeBob’s fear of the dark by telling him a scary story about the Hash-Slinging Slasher, a one-handed ghost cook who died working at the Krusty Krab. Later, Squidward and SpongeBob see what appears to be the real Hash-Slinging Slasher enter the restaurant to chop them up.
The name “Hash-Slinging Slasher” alone should bring many fans memories to a fun television episode. From SpongeBob’s at-night monologue to Squidward frighteningly noticing all the signs of the Hash-Slinging Slasher coming true, and SpongeBob trying to pronounce the Slasher’s name, this episode is filled with memorable lines. In terms of Halloween joys, “Graveyard Ship” features fantastic animation with an ominous, green night sky, Roger Bumpass’s frighteningly fun delivery of the Slasher story, and a nautical, spooky score to tie everything together. They even give fans a random Nosferatu cameo at the end of the episode (yes, vampire Nosferatu).
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The series will be written by ‘Eastern Promises’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’ writer Steven Knight.
Patrick Gunn is a TV and film feature writer for Collider. He has also written for Davler Media and 247Sports. You can hear his thoughts about the New York Yankees on the Bronx Beat Podcast. He is a graduate of Syracuse University and enjoys spending time with friends and family.
Some of the best boo-hoolarious animated episodes to check out this fall.